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Shon Hocker accepts offer to be Dickinson superintendent

A small gathering of the Dickinson Community came out to hear from the prospective candidates for superintendent Thursday evening. Shon Hocker (pictured) was offered the position on Friday. (Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
Dr. Shon Hocker has 11 years of superintendent experience and comes from the Big Horn School District in Wyoming. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

The Dickinson Public School District School Board unanimously moved to make an offer to Dr. Shon Hocker of Cowley, Wyo., to become Dickinson Public Schools' next superintendent. He has accepted the offer pending finalization of the contract.

"I liked Dr. Shon Hocker from the start. I liked his initial interview. I liked it all the way through," Board Member Jason Rodakowski said in the discussion following both of the public interviews Friday morning. "From there I've only gotten positive feedback to back up my assumptions. I feel like the interviews backed that up, and I feel like that'd be the way I'm leaning."

The board interviewed both prospective finalists early in the morning, Matthew Cheeseman from Perquimans County Schools in Hertford, North Carolina, and Hocker, who comes out of the Big Horn School District. Both were asked the same set of questions, such as what aspects of a school budget they'd fight hardest to protect when it came to proposing budgets to the school board.

"The one thing you need to protect is the greatest value of all, the relationship between the teacher and student," Cheeseman said.

"What I'd protect is what's best for kids, first and foremost," Hocker said. "That's why we're here. Nobody's here without the kids."

Hocker and Cheeseman had toured around Dickinson the previous day to see the schools and the teaching and administrative staff. In the evening, they held a public forum to field questions from a handful of members of the community at the new Dickinson Middle School. The community's impressions were collected through forms they filled out after they met the candidates.

Hocker was asked about how he receives feedback in his district, and he said they make use of community surveys to provide transparency and hear feedback.

"We do community surveys, as all districts do, and we've had some hot topics—we closed a school, we moved it, built it in a brand new community. You can imagine the challenges that takes, but recent community surveys and polls ... have never been higher," Hocker said. "I think that's a testament to how the district operates. They're an open door and input-provided organization to best serve all."

Hocker was asked to describe his strengths and weaknesses as a superintendent.

"I really feel what I do best is empower those who I am surrounded by to do their best. I feel that is a strength," he said. "Where do I need improvement? That's patience ... because I want things right away, I want to see results right away. I want to see that end product right away. I want that student to excel right away, and I understand things take time. I need to continually work on patience, and I am recognizing there is a time and a process for things involved."

Hocker expressed a strong positive impression of the district he'd received from the students within.

"I was very impressed with the students, first and foremost. I kind of got stuck in a high school transition period with lots of the kids leaving the school, and I stood and held the door open and I can attest that every student either smiled and looked friendly or said thank-you," Hocker said. "I think the friendliness of the students can make a great impression."

Hocker said that student excellence is a motivating factor for him.

"What motivates me is to see the successes of students," He said. "That's not to say the successes of staff, the successes of growth opportunities for your administration, those motivate you as well because you know you're doing the right thing."

Cheeseman described his motivation as coming from the value of human life, influenced by the varied experiences he's had throughout education.

"I understand the value of life. I've watched students walk across gang lines in South Chicago to hope to get to school and to have a teacher chastise them (when they get there) for not having a pencil," he said. "In Chicago, you'll see people celebrate a kindergarten graduation because they know their child may not live to see high school graduation."

Hocker expressed a willingness to face the challenges of the school district head-on, in the public forum and subsequent interviews with the press. Being from Wyoming, he said he's experienced some of what a boom/bust cycle can do to a school district.

"The district I represent ... it's been a destination district. People want to go and stay, so there hasn't been a lot of turnover. But if you have families come in and put their kids in school and those jobs ... leave, they are naturally oftentimes going to leave," Hocker said, noting that so far the trend has been upward in his region. "My district has seen relatively steady growth over the years."

Hocker said he'd been looking for a district he could commit to long term. He wasn't looking for a job, but the job, in his own words, and Dickinson had appealed because of the strong reputation of the community.

"Dickinson had a better reputation. Call it what it is, the college or the school or the town council, it may be a makeup of just everybody here; they take some pride in their community," Hocker said. "We're all coming out of a long winter, but things seem clean. Looks like there's a lot of pride."

Both candidates were asked the closing question of why the school district should hire them.

"If we are able to come together, your school system, in my professional opinion, will suddenly have a rush of energy that it's probably never had," Cheeseman said. "Specifically you'd be hiring somebody who will immediately care for people who may not feel cared for. The other part is, you're hiring a very intelligent individual who understands the value of what other people can do. I recognize the core values in people ... a superintendent cannot effectively do the job by himself or herself. It takes a village to raise a child."

Hocker offered his experience as answer.

"I will help the board further their goals and ambitions," Hocker said. "I will bring to you the experience that 11 years as superintendent will bring, 23 years in education."